Old Newspapers and Black Sheep Make For Interesting Research

When doing genealogy research a lot of it is painstakingly BORING. You spend hours pouring over records and searching for some new bit of information. However, the one part of genealogy research that I find interesting is reading old newspaper stories. It’s always amazed me that in the 1880’s the papers would report the smallest minutia of daily life.. such as “so and so is visiting their relative for a week”, “so and so has a bad cold and is out of work”, “so and so went back to work today after short illness” etc. Those are examples of items that I have actually read. There is also the daily court report where you see who was fined $1 for disturbing the peace, or as in the case of one of my relatives.. who hit their wife because she wouldn’t give him money to go to the bar! Yes, that was actually in a court report. It really gets interesting when you stumble upon some juicy stories. The journalists back then definitely had a “different” style from the journalists of today.

This week I did get caught up reading the details in one of these “juicy” stories. I don’t mind sharing because the individuals involved were not related to me by blood! Well.. ok.. the prelude to the story DOES involve one of my relatives who was less than an exemplary individual.

I’ve pieced together the following from a series of articles involving the characters in this domestic drama:

Catherine Kelly Brereton at the trial
Catherine Kelly Brereton at the trial

The story starts with my relative, John Brereton, a New Haven fireman born in 1857 in Ireland. In 1885 he married one Catherine Kelly. The couple had three children. By 1890 the couple had separated and Catherine sued John for divorce. The divorce and custody of children was granted on basis of habitual intemperance and intolerable Cruelty. Just to give some credence to Catherine’s claims, I found another article In March 1890, reporting how John and another man were arrested for breach of peace due to an attack on a man that came to John’s house to supposedly buy liquor, although the house is not licensed to sell it. A very brutal, bloody fight ensued. John and his friend tried to say that they were the victims and only acted in self defence, but the judge did not believe their story.

John Brereton died in February 1891 of a “hemorrage of the brain”.

Then later in 1890 I found a story reporting that Catherine and a “Jane Brophy” wife of James Brophy. It seems that James was married with children, but that his wife and he would often separate.. and then get back together. There is not reason given for the fight, but based on the rest of this story, we can safely assume that the women were fighting over James Brophy. *UPDATE* I just found out that in 1891 “Jane Coffee, who used to be called Mrs James Brophy” coming back to New Haven after living in Bridgeport for some time while the “county took care of her children”. Jane claimed that she was never married to James Brophy and only lived with him for 10 years until he cast her off and took up with Catherine Brereton.

After her divorce, Catherine was supposedly running a “rooming house” and who turns up as one of her tenants but James Brophy. Then in 1891 the you know what really hit the fan. The article that I’m attaching to this story details the operation that the police went through to trap the couple, but basically, neighbors had reported to the police that Catherine Brereton and James Brophy were carrying on in a less than proper way. The police trapped the couple and they were both arrested for “improper conduct”.

James Brophy at the trial
James Brophy at the trial

The article reports on the trial and then reports that after the couple was sentenced to 30 days in jail and a $7 fine for Catherine the couple was carted off to jail. On the way to jail James, romantic soul that he was, figured that the way to avoid further trouble was for the couple to get married..so he proposed to Catherine on the way to jail!! They were married that afternoon in the jailer’s office. James’ attorney, Jacob Goodhart, performed the ceremony.

As an interesting epilogue to the story.. Catherine Brereton Brophy was buried in the Brereton plot. That is a “forgiving” family!

Here is a pdf of the article about the trial:
Article: Katherine Kelly Brereton – James BrophyTrial